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Mr. Shaw: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of Lord Rogers fundamental recommendations was to reduce the amount of value added tax on empty properties? Many of us campaigned for such a reduction for many years, and last year my right hon. Friend the Chancellor delivered it. Is not that another important strand in creating the right fiscal arrangements for regeneration?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes another very good point about the significant changes that the Government have made to assist the process of regeneration.

The availability of affordable housing is a key component in the development of mixed and balanced communities, and providing affordable homes for key workers is also a particular concern. That is why, over the next two years, the Government are putting in an extra £300 million above current levels into London's social housing. That is why, in the south-east, we are increasing the funds available for housing investment by both local authorities and registered social landlords. In addition, the first round of the starter home initiative gave £66 million to help 2,500 key workers in the south-east buy their own homes.

However, the gap cannot be met simply by increasing public subsidy. We have to recognise that, if we are to tackle affordability problems, the first priority must be substantially to increase the rate of new build. That requires a highly innovative and radical approach—from the Government and the Mayor, from the boroughs and local authorities in the south-east as well as in London, and from developers and landowners.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): Will the Minister say why, in the council areas of Adur and Worthing in my constituency, not a single starter home initiative application has been approved? There is a drastic shortage of nurses and other public service workers in the area. The differential allowances that the Minister is offering mean that policemen from my area commute into London to enrol with the Metropolitan police, thereby exacerbating the problem of staff shortages in Sussex.

Mr. Raynsford: I have not received a letter from the hon. Gentleman so far on those matters but, if he writes

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to me, I shall be happy to respond. However, the starter home initiative has been warmly welcomed. In general, the experience is that it has worked best in those areas where the authorities concerned have been well prepared to make use of the opportunities that are being presented.

Effective public transport is a vital element in sustainable development, and the Government fully recognise the importance of improving transport in London. We are committed to tackling the historic underfunding of London transport. We recognise this as one of the major problems—if not the major problem—facing the city. That is why our 10-year plan for transport provides a step-change in funding, with £25 billion of public and private investment scheduled over a 10-year period. All forms of transport will benefit.

For example, we can already see some of the improvements coming through increased investment in the bus network. Interestingly, the bus network was another factor that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar did not mention. Perhaps he does not know it, but more people in London travel on buses than on the underground. Improving the bus network is just as important as improving other forms of transport. Bus use, I am pleased to say, is up by 6 per cent., to the highest level since 1975. The number of bus services is also up, and more than 1,000 new buses are on the road—cleaner, better and more accessible to elderly and disabled people.

Light rail and tram systems offer scope for real improvements in access, particularly to some of London's more disadvantaged areas. The Croydon Tramlink, which opened in May 2000, is an excellent example of this type of new and integrated transport in action.

Geraint Davies: Is my right hon. Friend aware that in its first year the Croydon Tramlink moved 18 million people? Does he agree that that is a massive contribution to commuting people in the south of London?

Mr. Raynsford: I am delighted to confirm my hon. Friend's positive appraisal of the effect of the Croydon Tramlink. I remember a pleasant occasion on which I joined him and saw the advantages for the New Addington community in his constituency which has benefited hugely from the new transport system.

On the docklands light railway, passenger use has risen dramatically, particularly over the past three years. The growth is expected to continue, resulting in an annual ridership of 60 million passengers in 2004-05 compared with 35 million in 2000, with further growth expected beyond that.

Central to London's transport is the tube, and its modernisation is essential to a prosperous future for the capital. The Government's public-private partnership proposals demonstrate our wholehearted commitment to modernise the Tube infrastructure. If a final decision is taken to proceed with these plans, they will deliver new trains, higher capacity and better stations which will transform travel for Londoners and visitors to the capital. The plans will deliver £16 billion of investment over the

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next 15 years—that is about £5,000 for every household in London. Nothing on this scale has ever been undertaken before.

Tim Loughton: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raynsford: I need to make some progress.

Crime blights the lives of far too many people and undermines the confidence of individuals and communities. Crime rates across London and the south-east are falling but street crime in London—mostly mugging—is bucking the trend. That is the sort of violent offence that worries ordinary people most and on which the Government are determined to crack down.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs will probably say more in his winding-up speech, but let me make a few key points about what we are doing to tackle crime. The number of police officers was mentioned earlier in the debate. I am pleased to say that at the last count, on 30 September last year, there were 25,374 officers in the Metropolitan police, an increase of 679 over the year and 496 in the six months since March 2001—the largest increase for more than a decade. That is obviously welcome, but increasing the number of police officers alone is not enough. The Government have also allocated almost £50 million to projects over the past three years under the crime reduction programme.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell the House the number of special constables who were available to London in 1996 and the number available to London now?

Mr. Raynsford: As I know from discussions with my local police committee and borough commander, special constables have an important role to play. Either my right hon. Friend or I will be happy to write to the right hon. Lady with a specific answer. As she will appreciate, that is a rather detailed question to put to a Minister who is not a Home Office Minister. I assure the right hon. Lady that she will receive a reply.

We have also set up a new youth and crime unit, based in the Government office for London, supporting work in the 11 London boroughs with the highest youth crime rates. Each borough is drawing up a comprehensive, multi-agency, youth crime reduction strategy. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships have carried out crime audits with local authorities in London and the south-east and are now completing their crime reduction strategies.

Antisocial behaviour is another important aspect of the work of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. People should be able to live their lives free from intimidation and harassment. That is why we have given the police and local authorities additional powers to tackle antisocial behaviour. By tackling at source antisocial behaviour in young people, we can help stop them falling into a lifetime of criminal activity and instead divert their energies into more constructive work. To help achieve this, in addition to the neighbourhood renewal policies, we have put in place a number of initiatives such as

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Connexions, and of course our new deal has helped substantial numbers of young people to find work and lay the foundations for a better future.

Mr. Wilshire: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Raynsford: It is important that all sectors of the community work together to attack crime. To do that effectively, all sectors of society must have confidence in each other. Sadly, that has not always been the case. The Macpherson report and the actions taken subsequently by the Metropolitan police have gone some way to improve relations and mutual confidence between the Metropolitan police and London's ethnic minority communities. A landmark conference on "Black and Minority Ethnic Communities Cracking Crime Together" was held in London last week, and was organised jointly by the Greater London Authority and the Government office for London. That and similar initiatives are all about providing a new impetus for the participation of black and minority ethnic groups in measures to reduce the impact of crime, which is often particularly severe on black and ethnic minority communities.

Graffiti is an important issue and a widespread problem.

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